Side-By-Side Comparison

Comparing mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigation

Woman deciding about how to navigate a difficult path

Understand your options

Mediation or going to court? Unsure about which approach to take? Use the table below to compare mediation, collaborative divorce, and litigation side-by-side.


Collaborative Divorce


Who decides the outcome?

The parties make all decisions.
The parties make all decisions.
The judge or arbitrator makes the decisions

How are decisions made?

  • The parties and the mediator go beneath the positions to examine the underlying interests of the parties.
  • Parties seek solutions that “expand the pie” and meet the important interests of both parties.
  • The collaborative team helps the parties to truly understand and evaluate what matters most to them.
  • Professionals bring expertise to help identify creative options looking for win/win outcomes. 
  • Each party advances its own position, often at the expense of the other.
  • Parties compete for resources in a zero sum game.
  • Whatever the judge says, goes.

What professional support is provided?

  • A neutral mediator works directly with the parties offering conflict management tools and providing information.
  • Legal advice is usually provided by consulting/review attorneys whose degree of involvement can vary.
  • Each party has their own individual attorney who provides legal advice and support at every step.
  • Additionally, neutral subject matter professionals in areas such as finance and family dynamics assist the parties as needed.
  • Each party may retain their own attorney.
  • They may also retain separate experts (accountants, business valuators, etc.) to provide competing opinions for the court to consider.
  • The court may also appoint neutral evaluators or professionals at the expense of the parties.

How do the parties relate to one another during the process?

  • During mediation sessions, the parties discuss the important issues that matter most to them – in ways that preserve and honor their relationship.
  • The mediator helps to manage the conflict and keep things on track.
  • The process is one of cooperation and the parties agree to abide by a code of conduct which demands transparency and respect.
  • Working together, the parties strive to preserve and honor their relationship and set themselves up for future success.
  • The parties are adversaries. Every person for themself.
  • The future relationship of the parties is often not a significant consideration.
  • Communication is primarily through attorneys.

What about the children?

  • Children are shielded from the conflict between their parents, and their well being remains at the center of every discussion.
  • Parents decide what is best for their own children.
  • The health and well-being of the children is always front and center.
  • Collaborative teams may include neutral experts, such as child and family specialists, who offer expert advice and insight to help parents make the decisions that are best for their children.
  • The best interests of the children are determined by a stranger, rather than the parents. 
  • Children may be made part of the court process and assigned a separate attorney.
  • The entire family may be subject to intrusive evaluations and questioning.

Is privacy protected?

  • Mediation is a confidential process held in complete privacy.
  • Parties and the mediator sign an agreement to maintain confidentiality now and in the future.
  • Collaborative divorce is a confidential process and all meetings are private.
  • Everyone signs a collaborative participation agreement maintaining confidentiality for all time.
  • Personal information is gathered from various sources for parties to use against one another
  • Hearings and other proceedings may occur in courtrooms before strangers including court personnel, other attorneys and litigants.

Who controls how long the process takes?

In mediation the parties determine how frequently to hold mediation sessions thereby exercising substantial control over the timeline.

The parties largely dictate the pace of the process and the professionals work to accommodate the parties’ needs.

The timeline is subject to the court calendar and the standards and goals set by the court.

How convenient is the scheduling?

The parties and mediator find mutually convenient times to conduct their meetings.
The parties and the professionals work together to schedule meetings at times that work for everyone.
Schedules are made by the court. Parties and/or their attorneys are generally required to appear at the time specified.

How expensive is it?

  • Although costs can vary widely (due to the complexity of the issues and the parties’ own pacing and dynamics), mediation is generally the least expensive of the methods.
  • For much of the mediation process, costs are limited to the fees of a single professional.
  • Because Collaborative Divorce requires the services of several professionals, it is an inherently more expensive process than mediation.
  • However, by effectively using neutrals and customizing the process for each unique case, collaboration strives to maintain efficiency and deliver outstanding value.
  • The truth is – it’s out of your hands.
  • Parties often incur costs based on the demands and efforts of the other party as well as the procedural requirements of the court.
  • Depending on the complexity and tenor of the proceedings, there is really no limit to the fees that might be required to reach conclusion.
Chart comparing mediation, collaborative divorce and litigation

Learn more about mediation

A mediator works directly with people in conflict to find a mutually agreeable resolution to their dispute.

Learn more about Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative Divorce uses an interdisciplinary team of professionals who work together with the parties to help find solutions that work for everyone. 

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